Experiences of Female and Male Medical Students With Death, Dying, and Palliative Care: One Size Does Not Fit All

Leslie A. Hoffman, Rakesh Mehta, Toan Vu, Richard Frankel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Medical students learn about death, dying, and palliative care (DDPC) through formal curricular offerings and informal clinical experiences; however, the lessons learned in the clinic may be at odds with the formal curriculum. Reflective writing is a means for students to “bracket” their DDPC experiences and reconcile conflicts between the formal and informal curriculum. Objectives: The aim of this study is to compare the level of reflection demonstrated in medical students’ narratives on DDPC with other experiences and to examine the domains of professionalism that students perceive to be prevalent in their DDPC experiences. Methods: Third-year medical students submitted professionalism narratives during their internal medicine clerkship. We identified a subset of narratives related to DDPC (n = 388) and randomly selected control narratives (n = 153). We assessed the level of reflection demonstrated in the narratives using a validated rubric and analyzed the professionalism domains that students identified as relevant to their experience. Results: There was no difference in reflective level between DDPC and control narratives. Within the DDPC group, female students demonstrated higher reflection (2.24 ± 0.71) than male students (2.01 ± 0.77; P <.001). Caring, compassion and communication, and honor and integrity were prominent among DDPC narratives. More females identified caring, compassion, and communication as relevant to their DDPC experiences, whereas more males identified altruism. Conclusion: Males and females have different perceptions of DDPC experiences, and female students appear to be more deeply impacted. These findings can help clinical faculty engage students more effectively with this challenging topic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2017


  • death
  • dying
  • end-of-life care
  • medical education
  • palliative care
  • professionalism
  • reflection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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